I’ve never been overly obsessed with staying clean. Perhaps this is comes of being raised getting good-honest-dirty working on my family’s farm? University years spent planting trees in recently burned forests certainly didn’t help.
It’s not like I ENJOY being grimy and filth-covered from head to toe – but there is something to be said for the experience. When you’re covered in muck or soaked to the bone, you have a very clear feeling that you’ve had an authentic experience that you can feel in your pores and it’s regardless of whether it was a thrilling water fight or a nasty cold sleet storm, generally it’s something you won’t forget soon!
I believe that children grow exponentially from such memories…the dirtier, the more memorable. That’s why it was a no-brainer when my husband told me about a huge Paint Fight that was going to be taking place in a nearby neighbourhood as part of their art festival. Naturally we would take the kids and of course we would participate! The event was was scheduled to take place for 10 minutes only on a section of side street closed off to traffic. Everyone was instructed to wear white and to bring goggles . There were rules to ensure safety & fun for all ages, then the whistle blew and the rest is rainbow-hued history!
The reactions that I got when I shared some of these photos of my paint-covered family with friends consisted of a lot of variations on : “wow, you’re such a good mom to let your kids get all dirty like that”. This got me thinking and wondering what that really means and why so many people are afraid to get dirty (or let their kids get dirty) in order to have some extraordinary fun once in a while.
I believe passionately in encouraging children to seek out creative forms of self-expression. Dress-up and creative play are just one way to express oneself – art and writing are important ones too. Somehow the paint fight fused so many positive experiences of self-expression together. We created colourful art on each other’s bodies, we engaged whole-heartedly with strangers – amid peels of laughter, shrieks and giggles. We shared a novel experience of humanness, abandoning ourselves to fun and TO HECK WITH THE LAUNDRY! Then we traveled home on the subway (careful not to stain the seats) and stopped for ice cream cones – amusing and mystifying the hundreds of strangers we passed along our journey. We enjoyed many spontaneous conversations with passersby who were curious what had happened to us.
We do our best to teach our kids to groom themselves, to eat neatly, clean up after themselves and not wipe their dirty hands on their pants – and we serve them well in these lessons. However, I firmly believe that we also serve them by teaching them that there are exceptions to every rule and that in our ordered universe we can also allow ourselves to sometimes explore the outer reaches of fun and creativity by stepping out of the normal confines of behaviour…even if it means the driveway will be stained for the next 8 months or a piece of clothing might no longer be nice enough to wear to school or it might take a month for the hair dye to fade.